Aubergines are becoming increasingly popular, with the introduction of new cultivars with smaller fruits that crop more readily. Sunshine and warmth are the keys to success, so these tender plants do best in a greenhouse. Sow seeds early in the year in warm conditions indoors – even in an airing cupboard.

Aubergine

Jobs to do now

  • Sow seeds for growing under cloches or in containers outdoors

Month by month

Sow

Sow in pots or modules filled with seed compost from February onwards. If the plants will be growing in a heated greenhouse, you can start them earlier, in January. If they will be growing outdoors, delay sowing indoors until early March, as these tender plants mustn’t be moved outside until after the last frost. 

Keep the pots or modules at 18–21°C (65–70°F), either in a heated propagator or a warm location indoors.

If germinating seeds in an airing cupboard, check daily and remove as soon as seedlings appear. Then place on a warm, bright windowsill.

If you don’t have room to grow from seed indoors, young aubergine plants are now widely sold in garden centres in spring. Grafted plants are also available – these grow strongly and usually cope better with cooler conditions outdoors.

Grow

Aubergines need a lot of warmth and sun to crop well, so are best grown in a greenhouse. They can be grown outside, but rarely do well except in mild areas or very warm summers.

Grow initially in 9cm (3½in) pots, then when the roots fill the pot, transfer to 23cm (9in) pots at the following times:

  • in April if growing in a heated greenhouse

  • in early May if growing in an unheated greenhouse

  • in late May/early June if they will be growing outdoors
     

Aubergines can also be planted in the ground in warm areas of Britain: 

  • Choose your warmest, sunniest, most sheltered position, ideally against a sunny wall.

  • Warm the soil with polythene or cloches two weeks before planting, once there is no danger of frost

  • Space plants 60cm (2ft) apart

  • Cover young plants with cloches or fleece for a further two weeks until acclimatised
     

Aftercare

  • Plants need staking, as they can grow tall and top-heavy. Tie in the main stem as it grows

  • When plants are 30cm (1ft) high, pinch out the tip of the main stem, to encourage sideshoots

  • Water regularly and feed with a high potassium liquid fertiliser every two weeks once the first fruit starts to form

  • Mist the leaves regularly (at least twice daily) with tepid water to discourage red spider mites and improve fruiting

  • Remove any further flowers once five or six fruits have started to form – cultivars that produce small or round fruits can be allowed to produce many more

Common problems

Glasshouse red spider or two spotted mite
Glasshouse red spider or two spotted mite

Leaves become mottled, pale and covered in webbing, on which the mites can be clearly seen; leaves also drop prematurely.

Remedy

They thrive in hot, dry conditions, so mist plants regularly. Use biological control in the greenhouse.

More info on Glasshouse red spider or two spotted mite

Whitefly
Whitefly

Small white flies suck sap and excrete sticky ‘honeydew’ over the plant, encouraging the growth of sooty mould.

Remedy

Use biological control or sticky traps in the greenhouse.

More info on Whitefly

Aphids
Aphids

Look for colonies of greenfly on the soft shoot tips of plants or on leaves. They suck sap and excrete sticky honeydew, encouraging the growth of black sooty moulds.

Remedy

Use your finger and thumb to squash aphid colonies or use biological control in the greenhouse.

More info on Aphids

Harvesting

Harvest fruits individually as soon as they are ripe, with a glossy skin – usually from August onwards.

Recipes

Masterchef judge Greg Wallace shares his recipe for grilled vegetable terrine.

Varieties

'Bonica’AGM:Ideal for an unheated glasshouse, early cropping with top-quality, good-sized, attractive, glossy black fruits.

‘Clara’ AGM:An unusual, pure white variety with white flesh. Oval in shape and slightly ribbed. It is medium sized and matures early

‘Garline’ AGM:A heavy cropper which produces clusters of small, very glossy, purple egg shaped fruit. Ideal for containers.

‘Kaberi’ AGM:A compact, thornless variety bred specifically for container growing. Produces a prolific crop of dark purple , egg-sized fruit which mature very quickly.

‘Moneymaker’:A reliable early cropping variety, tolerant of lower temperatures so can be grown outside. Bears good yields of long slender, matt purple fruits.

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